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Fiber is not the most glamorous nutrient, but it’s one of the most essential — and the most overlooked: 95 percent of Americans don’t get enough. Daily recommendations range from 21 to 38 grams, but most Americans eat 16 grams or less.

Fiber is essential for keeping food moving through your digestive system, but it also plays other surprising roles. It helps control cholesterol and regulate blood sugar, protecting against hypertension, heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, including breast and lung cancers. And new research suggests it also aids your microbiome.

Try a few of these tips to increase your intake:

1. Toss a handful of spinach or Swiss chard into the blender when making a smoothie.

2. Give beans and lentils a starring role in meals: They’re prime sources of soluble fiber. Pair your breakfast eggs with black beans and salsa. Dine on bean soups, bean dips or hummus, or lentil salads.

3. Enjoy salads packed with greens and other veggies — or combine them with whole grains.

4. Keep snacks simple and healthy: Power up on apples, oranges, and bananas. Nuts and seeds also provide a solid energy and protein boost.

5. Make veggies and beans the centerpiece of dinner with a salad, stir-fry, or cornucopia of sides. Squash, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts deliver abundant soluble fiber. Onions, garlic, and potatoes offer plenty of prebiotic fiber to feed your microbiome’s probiotics. Carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, and beets are all loaded with insoluble fiber.

6. Add nuts, berries, or a banana to your breakfast granola or oatmeal.

This originally appeared as “The Fiber Gap” in the April 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

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